JOK Notebook

Internal Contradictions

It's been a rough week in many parts of the world, and joy often feels beside the point. And yet I know it doesn't accomplish much to dwell in the dark side, so I have to double down on my efforts to feel wonderment, curiosity, and glee. If anything can get me there, kanji can. Without further ado, I bring you a smattering of fun kanji tidbits that I've collected over the weeks.

Internal Contradictions

Check out the meanings of this term:

在り方 (ありかた: (1) the way something ought to be; (2) the (current) state of things; how things are)     existence + way of doing

Aren't those two meanings in complete contradiction with each other?! Here's what I mean:

The way something ought to be: I can read all kanji effortlessly.

How things currently are: A bit different from that

A 内 Quiz

Here's a cool compound I came across in a sample sentence in essay 1079 on 獲 (to catch game or fish; get):

戦車 (せんしゃ: tank)     war + vehicle

There's nothing funny about wars or tanks, but it's such a tidy and cute compound, looking like "war car." That's some car! Of course, 車 can represent many kinds of vehicles.

Anyway, now that we're in a "what could it mean?" frame of mind, let's do a Quick Quiz. Match each compound and yomi with a definition:

1. 内向 (ないこう) a. inside; interior
2. 内面 (ないめん) b. the face one presents at home 
3. 内面 (うちづら) c. introvert

I'll block the answers with a preview of the newest essay, which teaches you how to bribe people in Japanese (just kidding!): 

Okay, here we go:

1.c. 内向 (ないこう: introvert)     inward + turning

2.a. 内面 (ないめん: inside; interior)     inside + side

3.b. 内面 (うちづら: the face one presents at home)     inside + face

Look at the shift from a to b. Changing from an on-yomi duo to a kun-kun compound makes for completely different definitions and even a change in the breakdown.

When read as ないめん, 内面 could refer to the inside of a building or could be more abstract (e.g., the inside of someone's mind).

As for うちづら, the "face" in that sense implies "demeanor."


We have time for just a little more fun, and then it's back to being grim and despairing! Consider this word:

直感的 (ちょっかんてき: intuitive)     direct + feelings + adjective suffix

I love any talk about intuition and feelings, so I automatically like this word, but I'm also befuddled. Isn't intuition indirect, rather than direct? I mean, if I tell you that I'm sad, and you murmur insincere and rote words of comfort (sorry, I'm giving you a hard time!), the exchange is pretty direct. I have left you nothing to guess at. If instead I shred my napkin as we chat over hot tea, but I don't say what's on my mind, and if you guess that I'm frustrated and anxious, that would be intuitive and indirect.

And yet it's as if the intuitive person has a direct connection to the truth of the situation. That's what 直 conveys here. Incidentally, Halpern says that the prefix 直- can mean "direct, personal." 

Here's another surprise. Whereas 直感的 is common, the antonym 反直感的 (はんちょっかんてき: counterintuitive) is uncommon. That is … counterintuitive! And it's all the more astonishing when you realize that the words differ only by one kanji, 反.

Incidentally, next week's essay on 酌 will present another great term involving intuition:

意を酌む (いをくむ to enter into a person's feelings; guess what somebody feels, using one's intuition)     feelings + to take someone's feelings into account

Even though I've written the essay, I can't help feeling shocked to see 酌 in relation to emotional states. After all, this kanji primarily means "to serve or drink alcohol"! It's quite a leap from there to deep empathy! If anything, people become more selfish as they drink. But the second definition of 酌 is "consideration for others," and essay 1343 explains how the two themes connect.

I'll be back next week to serve up that essay!


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